It was with more than a modicum of interest, that I read about Rachelle David, a 17 year old Jewish girl being accepted to West point. Based on the newspaper article, I have every reason to be impressed. Meaning no disrespect whatsoever to Rachelle, I would have been even more impressed, had I read about a Jewish High School senior, who upon graduation, opted to enlist in the army. As one who believes strongly in education, I believe equally strongly that not every Jewish child is college material. I also believe that Jewish parents are doing their children a great disservice as long as they harbor the “my son the doctor” syndrome.
One of the many negatives of our eastern European experience is that we were at the mercy of the non-Jew. As Jews, our well-being was in the hands of “Andrzej” or “Szczepan” or “Yuzik”. Among the many reasons that Zionism took root in the latter half of the 19th century, was to have our own land where we could be totally independent of others. The dream was to have a society replete with Jewish farmers, Jewish artisans and Jewish manual laborers as well as Jewish professionals, academicians and intelligentsia. In time, that experiment failed miserably in Israel. Here in the United States it can be argued that the situation is even worse. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that we are the laughing stock of more than a few non- Jews, when they see how ill equipped and perhaps even comical we are when it comes to even the simplest tasks involving wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers and saws. Hasn’t the time come for us to realize that a Yiddishe Kop is totally insufficient for the wellbeing of Jews in this country?
I don’t know how things got so far, but in our attempt as Jews to be accepted in all facets of American society, we seemed to have excluded ourselves when it came to blue collar professions. Ever since the era of the Jewish grocer, Jewish shoe store owner, and Jewish clothing store owner was brought to a close, American Jewish parents have found it difficult, if not impossible to fathom and refuse to accept that a college education is not in the offing for their child. For some time now, American Jewish parents have been prepared to “sit shivah” whenever their child did not pursue a C.P.A., M.D. or an Esquire to follow their name. It seems to me, that with all our prattle about Jews being accepted in American society, we’ll never be truly accepted, until we as a group face the reality that we have yet to make it in all trades, vocations and professions in this country. Small wonder why so many non-Jews seek out Jewish doctors, Jewish lawyers or Jewish accountants. There are no Jewish plumbers or Jewish electricians or Jewish car mechanics for non- Jews to seek out!
As difficult as it may be for us to accept, there are Jewish children in these United States, who have a far greater aptitude for Trade or Vocational schools than for Universities. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Jewish parents turn their noses up at the idea of their child becoming a refrigerant expert or a long distance Semi Trailer Driver or a carpenter. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Jewish parents insist that their children choose college over a Trade or Vocational School. Why is a plumber who can fix an overflowing toilet any less looked up to and appreciated than a dentist who can replace a crown that broke off one’s front tooth? Perhaps it’s time for a Jewish parent to be able to beam with pride as he tells others about his son who is a master at refinishing hardwood floors or about her daughter who is lab technician.
The Talmud teaches that when we meet our maker we will be asked six questions. Not one of the six will deal with college degrees. The closest any of those six questions comes to education is: Did you establish times for Torah. Not a word is said about the study of Torah. Not everyone of us has the aptitude or ability to become Torah scholars. Provided we are healthy and fall under the guidelines of normal, all of us can live a Torah life however.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor… Hopefully we will live to see the day when a Jewish parent will beam with naches in speaking about his/her son/daughter the mentsch, irrespective of degree, certificate, career, or vocation.